By Greg Wright
MBA, CFE, CFP®, CLU, ChFC
Certified Fraud Examiner
Certified Financial Planner™
|Stephen W. Schuyler mug shot|
Sarah Wilding trusted her attorney to give the remainder of her estate to her church’s building fund. Elder attorney, Stephen W. Schuyler had other uses for the money. Only recently, it finally came to light that Schuyler had over-charged and diverted as much as $500,000 from some of the 130 estate cases he was administering.
East Lynn Christian Church is a small Anderson Indiana church. Following Sarah Wilding’s death on April 20, 2012, Schuyler paid her final expenses and distributed funds and assets to her named beneficiaries. That was the plan. The remainder, $145,003, was to go to the church building fund toward paying off the 2005 sanctuary expansion.
The church was aware that Sarah had made a final gift to them, and they sought payment from Schuyler. He stalled and requested the court approve yet another payment for additional attorney fees. Undeterred, the church pressed him to close the estate and pay them. Schuyler’s check bounced.
Finally, the police and prosecutor investigated. They ascertained that, in addition to Wilding, other estates had been looted. They identified four other estates specifically, and 130 unsettled estates that were eventually assigned to other attorneys.
The East Lynn Christian Church filed a civil complaint against Schuyler and his girlfriend, Kem Golden, for conversion of $164,101 from the Wilding estate. In addition to the civil complaints,
Charges have been made that involve the estate of Frances Clem from 2010 to 2014 of $156,790. Other victims may include other churches, and the local Humane Society.
Unsurprisingly, Schuyler’s law license was suspended indefinitely, and he is facing 13 felony counts.
Since supervision may be lax or even non-existent, there are probably similar cases in other communities that have simply not been reported. The deceased had counted on a trusted attorney to carry out their final requests and not to loot the estate. But, the lawyer treated the estate assets like his personal piggy bank.
Inheritance hijacking is not that rare. Thieves who target the elderly and the dead are cunning and patient. The vulnerable elderly within us are perfect targets – 20 percent are victims.
Strongly consider not waive the requirements that executors be bonded, as many attorneys suggest. Consider not giving your attorney authority to be your executor.